If a “single toecap” of a Russian soldier crossed into Nato territory it would mean war, Sajid Javid warned this morning.
The health secretary made the comments after Vladimir Putin’s forces dramatically escalated the war in Ukraine by firing missiles onto a base around ten miles from Poland’s border.
The attack on the Yavoriv military base over the weekend raised the possibility of a military confrontation with Moscow due to its close proximity to a Nato member.
Javid told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “We’ve been very clear from the start with our Nato allies that if there is any kind of attack on Nato territory, then it will be war with Nato and there will be a severe response.
“We don’t ever set out in advance how exactly we would respond.
“Of course, we’d work together with our allies, but let’s be very clear, that if a single Russian toecap steps into Nato territory, there will be war with Nato.”
In a later interview, Javid said it was not “impossible” that Russia would launch an attack on Nato territory but he thought it would be “very unlikely”.
He also refused to be drawn on whether a chemical weapons attack on Ukraine would also trigger a Nato response, telling Sky News: “Any kind of attack, anything that touches Nato territory or impacts Nato in any significant way, we would respond. But we don’t set that kind of response out in advance.”
Sir Richard Shirreff, former deputy supreme commander of Nato, said Russia’s attack on the Yavoriv military base should serve as a “wake up call” to Nato.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “If missiles had landed in Polish territory, Poland is a Nato member and therefore every other Nato member, all 30 member states of Nato, would be obliged to come to Poland’s support.”
The attack on the Yavoriv base, which has previously been used by Nato to train Ukrainian soldiers, is one of the western-most targets struck by Russia during the invasion.
It comes amid heightened fears of an escalation of the conflict, with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warning it was “only a matter of time” before the Nato alliance was struck.
Zelenskyy, who spoke to Boris Johnson on Sunday, used the attack near the Polish frontier to renew his call for Nato allies to “close” the skies above Ukraine.
Johnson is preparing to host leaders from the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an alliance of northern European nations.
Representatives from Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway will attend the gathering on Monday and Tuesday.
During his call with Zelenskyy, Johnson said the UK would “continue to pursue more options for bolstering Ukraine’s self-defence”.
The prime minister also said Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric actions” were testing “not just Ukraine but all of humanity”.